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(en) MEDIA, Greece, WAR & CONFLICT: Greek anarchists organise for refugees as 'state fails'
Sun, 24 Jan 2016 14:00:21 +0200
The Notara squat houses more than 100 refugees and migrants passing through Athens each
night. ---- Greek anarchists provide a shelter for refugees at an abandoned government
building in Athens [Sorin Furcoi/AL Jazeera] ---- Athens, Greece - As thousands of
refugees and migrants continued to be turned away at borders, a steady flow of new faces
poured into the Notara solidarity centre in the Exarcheia neighbourhood of Athens. ----
Notara was founded in late September when around 20 anarchists and leftists occupied an
abandoned, three-storey building belonging to the Greek Ministry of Labour. The centre
provides temporary accommodation, basic medical treatment, clothing and information for up
to 130 refugees and migrants each day. ---- Refugees boost Greece's economy ---- It is one
of several similar projects springing up across the country while the refugee crisis
continues to grip Europe.
Tucked away in an alley with graffiti-lined walls, Notara is part of a network of
activist-administered refugee solidarity centres in the neighbourhood.
A few hundred metres down the road is a centre that provides social services, while a
handful of anarchist-run dining collectives are just around the corner.
According to the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, more than a million refugees
and migrants reached European shores by boat in 2015.
With the doors open to welcome newcomers, enthusiasm was high as dozens of activists and
volunteers debated how to expand their operations during an assembly meeting on a chilly
night in early December.
"We need more squats in places like Thessaloniki," one volunteer argued, referring to the
coastal city in northern Greece that has become a stopping off point along the refugee
trail as people fleeing violence and economic despair look for safety and stability in Europe.
Refugee children staying at Notara find temporary respite from their exhausting journey
[Sorin Furcoi/AL Jazeera]
Mimi, a 34-year-old anarchist and member of the squat, declined to provide her last name
fearing legal retribution. "We decided to do something in Athens about the refugee
crisis," she told Al Jazeera, crushing the butt of her cigarette into an ashtray and
swiftly lighting another.
The volunteers at the shelter include teachers, social workers, doctors and full-time
activists, among others. What unites them is a belief that the Greek government has failed
to shoulder its responsibilities towards refugees.
The difference between philanthropy and solidarity
"We are against the state and we think the government has done nothing to provide a real
solution," she said, adding that more than 1,700 refugees and migrants had stopped over in
Notara between September 25 and December 1.
Most of the founding volunteers had been active in solidarity work on Greek islands over
the summer of 2015, helping the thousands of people disembarking from boats and dinghies
"We had a full summer of experience under our belts and felt that refugees needed a safe
space when they get to Athens, especially as the weather gets worse. From Athens, they
still have a long journey ahead of them."
Deeply ideological, Notara and similar endeavours reject the philanthropic approach in
favour of refugee solidarity. Refugees are asked to participate in the twice-weekly
assembly meetings, which make decisions through consensus.
"The act of squatting in this building was a message to the government: It is failing
everywhere and we are putting a spotlight on it," she said. "We are anti-authoritarians.
We reject the assistance of the state, NGOs, charities and businesses."
She said that Notara is for "political people" and not those whose sole motivations are
humanitarian. "There is a difference between philanthropy and solidarity. We understand
that we are on the same level as refugees."
"This is a project by the people. We believe that these are the key principles of
self-organisation, and we want to take the struggle into our own hands."
Exarcheia itself was a symbolic choice. With little government presence, the neighbourhood
is a hotbed of leftist political activity where locals clash with police when they show up.
In late November, Notara witnessed a surge of refugees and migrants after Macedonia sealed
off its borders to people who could not prove citizenship in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan,
deeming them "economic migrants".
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov claimed that the presence of more than 2,000 refugees
in his country at any given time would result in "permanent and direct threats for
Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and other countries quickly imposed similar measures.
Seraphim Seferiades, a political science professor at Panteion University, in Athens,
argued that the leftist SYRIZA government's about-face over Greece's debt crisis led to a
vacuum on the broader left.
"The response of the whole left - not just anarchists - has been quite amazing," he told
"People had accumulated so much energy to participate in politics and in domestic
struggles in recent years, like the debt crisis, but all that energy went into refugee
solidarity inititiative after the SYRIZA sellout."
Seferiades said that right-wing groups, such as the Golden Dawn, have been unable to
capitalise on the refugee crisis so far. But if refugee solidarity activists are unable to
tie their activism to Greece's domestic struggles, he warned, the hardline rightists could
seize the opportunity.
"It will eventually happen if the solidarity movement cannot continue to politicise the
issue. They need to show the general population that what migrants and refugees are going
through now is linked to the same European Union policies that make [Greeks] suffer."
Even volunteers' duties at Notara are divided up according to anarchist principles and
everyone participates in the work [Sorin Furcoi/AL Jazeera]
Even volunteers' duties are divided up according to ideological principles, Mimi
explained. "Only doing one job - like clothing distribution - can create a de facto
When they are not seeing patients, doctors help distribute blankets and clothes to
refugees whose suitcases were soaked or ruined during the perilous boat ride. Teachers do
laundry and cook in between classes in Notara's preschool.
Every few nights, a handful of activists venture to Athens' Victoria Square - a gathering
point for refugees - to bring those with nowhere to sleep back to the squat.
Said, a 21-year-old Moroccan who did not want to give his last name, left his hometown of
Casablanca in early September. Braving the wintry Aegean waters and the lengthy land
route, he made it to Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border only to find that the crossing
was closed for him.
The closure has created a build-up of tens of thousands of people in Greece, including
those fleeing Morocco, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, Somalia, Tunisia and elsewhere.
Arriving back in Victoria Square, Said was approached by activists from Notara. "They told
me there is a safe and warm place to sleep," he told Al Jazeera. "I've been here for a few
weeks. I don't know if the borders will open for us again."
Achilles Peklaris, an Exarcheia-based journalist and anarchist activist, argued that
Notara "is far more organised than the camps run by the government", accusing the state of
providing substandard living conditions for refugees and migrants.
"When you mention the word 'anarchy', most people think of chaos and disorder," he told Al
Jazeera. "But if you're worldview depends on a leader to tell you what to do, then we feel
sorry for you," he said.
Referring to the weekly assemblies and inclusive decision-making process, Peklaris added:
"No authority doesn't mean no rules. This is a direct democracy in the purest sense of the
Notara 'is far more organised than the camps run by the government', say volunteers [Sorin
As the assembly meeting came to an end, a family of Afghan refugees arrived. Activists
welcomed them in and a translator explained that they could stay for however long they needed.
Mimi and others took their bags to a room with two beds, bringing them blankets and clean
clothes. Pointing out the worsening weather and the closing of borders across the Balkans,
she predicted that the coming months would be increasingly difficult.
"With the borders closing, so many people are being sent back to Athens," Mimi said. "What
are these people supposed to do? Sleep outside?"
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